Snooker's next ranking event begins on Monday morning and will be covered live throughout on Betfair. Here's Paul Krishnamurty's preview...
"Taking 5.24/1 about Trump every time for the last two and a half years would have yielded a substantial profit."
Previewing last week's Players Championship, I noted what feels like a golden era in snooker, where all the world's best players are in peak, or close to peak form. We've just seen further evidence.
At the time of writing, Ronnie O'Sullivan and John Higgins are preparing for their first meeting in a ranking final since 2005. Higgins has won an astonishing 17 out of 18 frames so far, whilst the former's run includes a fourth near-perfect performance in less than a fortnight.
Trust Trump to return to winning ways
Prior to that, Judd Trump had been getting ever shorter in the betting by the week. The world number one was assumed to be a class above. Two defeats later, he's available at bigger than we've seen for well over a year. Taking 5.24/1 about Trump every time for the last two and a half years would have yielded a substantial profit.
There is absolutely no reason for concern. He had to lose a best-of-seven eventually and openly didn't appreciate the conditions at Celtic Manor. At the Players, he lost a decider to a very strong Stuart Bingham performance. No disgrace.
BetVictor Series finale adds incentive
I'm sure he's hungry to get back to winning ways and there's plenty on the line here with the conclusion of the BetVictor Series, which he leads.
So too for arguably his chief rival prior to the last eight. Zhou Yuelong needs a very good week to qualify for the Tour Championship and/or a top-16 ranking and automatic Crucible place. That's a lot of pressure for the youngster, who just lost a decider to a key rival in those races, to bear.
Neither of the other big names appeal. Mark Allen has a nice early path but hasn't been especially convincing of late. Ding Junhui looks under-priced, on reputation, nowadays.
Instead, try Scott Donaldson. The 26 year-old has reached five semi-finals previously and won a Championship League.
Tricky draws for Selby and Wilson
With Trump in the same half, I'm happy to take on the two big-guns in this section with outsiders. Mark Selby has a tricky opener against Sam Craigie and possibly Matthew Stevens afterwards. Kyren Wilson is plenty short enough at 11/1, given he could face Barry Hawkins as early as the last-32.
Joe O'Connor is a nice prospect, proving adept in the early rounds, which could get him a long way from this draw. He's reached a ranking semi-final before and took Selby to a decider in Wales. Jamie Jones has pedigree from a few years ago and is progressing nicely on his return to the tour.
Don't expect miracles from Hendry
The most fascinating and newsworthy sub-plot concerns the return of Stephen Hendry to the tour, against Matt Selt on Tuesday. It will great to see him back and hopefully stay on the scene, but I have very low expectations in company who've been playing competitive snooker virtually every week. 4/11 about Selt may be banker material.
The third quarter looks the most competitive. If Higgins - and it is asking a lot - maintains his unbelievable form, he'll be near-impossible to stop. Yan Bingtao really caught the eye in Wales, carrying the confidence of a Masters champion. A mouthwatering last-16 tie is scheduled if early results go to form.
Fresh Robertson to ease into latter stages
Neil Robertson won't have to worry about either until the last-eight and his most dangerous opponent en-route is David Gilbert. The Aussie returned in fine fettle with a quartet of centuries in his first match at the Players, which I'll take as a hopeful signal of his wellbeing after a long break. He'll be by far the freshest of the top players here.
Jordan Brown's victory showed the sense in persisting with capable outsiders at huge odds, whose profile suggests they'll go on a long run somewhere. Noppon Saengkham needs no introduction to regular readers. Keep the faith.
Pang still under-rated in betting
Similarly Pang Junxu is going to be a fixture in staking plans if these sort of odds persist. Consider the latest tally for this 21 year-old first professional.
In seven events, he's reached two last-32s and two last-16s. In between, he won five matches from seven at the WST Pro-Series. He's beaten Allen, Hawkins, Junhui and Maguire. He was 2-0 up against the latter with a quarter-final place at stake last time.
The most obvious and immense obstacle between that first quarter-final appearance is Ronnie O'Sullivan, although the Rocket will have to negotiate some tricky opponents beforehand, including Ali Carter and perhaps Brown.
Ronnie opposed with resurgent Murphy
Ronnie may well win this title and much of his form of late has been of an unbeatable standard. However he's never been a fan of playing day in, day out, and he's been through a number of matches, some very gruelling mentally, in the last fortnight.
If he does hit a wall somewhere, the quarter would open up for Shaun Murphy. 'The Magician' was noted in somewhat resurgent form at the Wales Open, as he bids to turn around a poor season. Shaun was very open about his struggles with lockdown but seems in much better spirits now.
Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty
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